It was late 1953, and the second year of my service as an Education Officer in the Gold
Coast. I was one of a band of six officers who were the last to be appointed to
pensionable service there. It was also the second year of internal self-government in the
Gold Coast. This had come in February 1952, while the six of us were Cadet Education
Officers pursuing the Post-Graduate Certificate of Education course at the University of
London Institute of Education. Shortly before we sailed from Liverpool in August 1952
to take up our appointments a letter from the Colonial Office had told us that because of
internal self-government we should expect changes in the Gold Coast, and that a new
salary scale had been introduced, details of which would be given after arrival. There
were also gubernatorial assurances that our careers as Colonial Service officers were in
no way a cause for concern by us.
I had been posted to the District Education Office, Kumasi. Kumasi was the chief
town of Ashanti, a traditional tribal kingdom with a famous reputation for its own
authority and independence, and the education district was a large and busy one, with
over 500 primary and middle schools. One of the first acts of internal self-government
had been to promote fee-free primary education, as promised by the Accelerated
Development Plan for Education. The District Education Officer was an experienced and
highly regarded African, an ex-Government teacher promoted on merit. He was one of a
select band who were in the vanguard of what was known as the Africanisation of the
Civil Service, and the six of us, in our various postings, were among the first expatriates
to have African superordinates. I found him fair, positive, hard working, and genuinely
concerned that I should learn both fully and fast what the job of an Education Officer in
his district involved. I had great respect for him.
Much of my work involved visiting schools throughout the district to make
inspections and write reports, and assisting with the in-service training of a rapidly
increasing number of African Assistant Education Officers. The expansion of primary
schools required a rapidly increasing number of pupil teachers too, and the setting up of
in-service short courses for them. One day I was asked to do something different:
to attend the Board of Governors' meeting of the Methodist Girls Boarding School in
Juaben, some twenty miles from Kumasi. I welcomed the change.
The meeting went well. The chairman of the Board of Governors was the Juabenhene,
the Paramount Chief of the area. He was clear about what he wanted, and took us
purposefully through the agenda. As the meeting closed the Juabenhene thanked us for
attending, and in an expansive moment invited us all to visit him in his palace (his own
description) for refreshments. It would have been grossly discourteous for me to decline
his invitation, and besides I was curious, never before having visited a paramount chiefs
abode. In due course we were all given chairs on the verandah, servants brought a bowl
of water for washing hands, and refreshments were served: sweet biscuits and tepid beer,
as was the local custom. As we ate and drank conversation became quite animated, but
I could contribute little, so I listened and watched with interest.
Time passed, and the Juabenhene's expansiveness increased. He announced that he
would have a photograph taken to mark the occasion; a messenger was despatched. During the wait more refreshments were served, and eventually the photographer
arrived, his equipment a large glass-plate camera and tripod, and black velvet cloth.
Chairs were arranged in a row, and we began to group around them. As a Government
officer I was not a member of the Board of Governors, but merely in attendance,
representing the Director of Education, and had been at the meeting only to provide,
when appropriate, an official perspective and guidance on policy if required. I
therefore stood behind the chair at the edge of the row, giving precedence to the
The Juabenhene eyed the group, and quickly commanded me to come and sit on the
vacant chair beside him, in the middle of the row. I protested gently, saying that I was
not formally on the Board of Governors but merely represented the Education
Department. The Juabenhene would have none of this. "No, no," he said firmly.
"You come and sit here. You are the only coloured man here!"
It was a salutary experience, never to be forgotten. Colour, like beauty, is in the eye of